Those Grandma Jokes Got It All Wrong


Before I became a grandmother, I remember everyone telling me that the best part of being a grandparent is that you get to send them home after they visit.

Sure, there are lots of times when that’s true. When everyone is healthy and energetic and we spend all day riding bikes, painting, baking cookies and dancing….yes, that’s when I find myself counting the minutes until Mom arrives to take them home.

When it’s the last day before vacation, and we are all sick of our daily routine, this stay-at-home Nonni is more than ready to send them out the door as soon as I see those headlights in my driveway.

But.

When the little ones are sick, everything is different.

I have spent the past two weeks taking care of my grandchildren as they fight off a nasty virus. Their Mom is pregnant and is saving her sick days for when she gives birth. Dad works from home. Nonni here loves having the kids and loves the feeling of taking care of little loved ones who really need her.

But.

I raised three kids with lots of allergies. My two sons had pretty severe asthma. One had intermittent moderate asthma (but ended up in the hospital once for three days). One had chronic severe asthma and could go from perfectly fine to wheezing like you read about in ten minutes.

I was on red alert for about a decade. My medicine cabinet had six inhalers, four allergy meds, cough syrup, decongestants and every known herbal remedy. During those days, you could have woken me up at 3 AM and I’d have been able to tell you exactly what meds we had and how many doses each contained.

I got to the point where I could tell that one son was beginning to experience lower oxygen by looking at his little face. When it was as white as milk and his eyes had blue rings under them, it was time to grab the inhaler.

I was able to simultaneously sleep and listen to the gentle wheezes of his younger brother. There was a certain pitch that had me on my feet, grabbing the asthma meds.

I have spent nights with a nebulizer, walking from one side of the crib to the other, hoping to get the mist into the lungs of the baby who kept rolling over. I have slept upright in a recliner with a baby in my arms more nights than I can recall.

Of course, it was terrifying to leave my boys in day care. I once got a call that my son was in distress after a field trip to a farm. I made it to his daycare before they had to call 911, and took him in my car to the ER. He was treated and sent home with me. My husband and I spent the next three nights taking turns using the nebulizer every two hours.

So.

Here I am, taking care of my little grandson as he fights off a nasty virus. He is sneezing, nose dripping, running a fever, and coughing very hard. His parents are aware, and I KNOW that they are on top of it.

Still, I am feeling a huge sense of PTSD from this whole thing. I am scared that I’m missing something. He doesn’t have asthma. He isn’t wheezing (yes, I have been checking with my trusty stethoscope), but his cough is tight and harsh and he tells me that it hurts. His nose is running like a hose.

I am sitting in my recliner, rocking him in my arms as he sleeps.

And I am feeling the scariest sense of deja vu.

I trust my daughter and her husband completely. I do! They are remarkably calm and patient and attentive parents. I know that they are on top of whatever this virus is doing to our little guy.

But you know what?

The worst part of my day, now that my little guy is sick, is the moment when I peel him out of my arms and give him to his parents to take home.

Yes, I need the rest. I am not a young Momma anymore.

Yes, he needs his parents. Duh. Of course!

But.

I wake up at 2AM straining to hear the sound of his breathing. Sometimes I have a brief moment where I think, “I hear him and his breathing is fine.”

Then I realize that I’m hearing my young and healthy dog, dreaming away on the couch. This makes me roll over, look at the clock and calculate how long it will be before he is back here with me, where I can check him out.

I am a neurotic, crazy, traumatized Grandma.

And I am here to tell you that the whole “you get to send them home” thing is a sham.

Excuse me while I go make a big batch of homemade chicken soup for tomorrow.

And Time Goes By


It’s really funny what little things in life make us aware of the passage of time. There are the big life milestones, like births and graduations and retirement. Moments which are designed to remind us the years are flying and that we are all marching onward into whatever the future holds.

But sometimes it is a very little thing that grabs us by the heart and squeezes. Sometimes it is almost nothing, but it feels like everything.

Time is moving. Life is passing. The only constant in life is change.

Today was one of those days for me.

I went for a haircut, as I do every 5 weeks. I got in the car and drove to my local hair salon. I’ve been coming to this same salon for my cut for about 25 years. When the place was sold by its original owner, I stayed. When it moved down the street, I stayed.

I’ve met my neighbors there. I’ve set up appointments at the same time as my friends on summer days, so that we could go out to lunch after our cuts and colors. The woman who cuts my hair was in elementary school when I started coming; she was a girl scout friend of my daughter back then.

They are both Mommies now.

For twenty five years, I’ve heard the town gossip while sitting in this chair. I’ve seen the flyers for fundraisers, for hockey games, for PTO events.

Years ago, when I was a girl scout helper, I met other moms and talked about upcoming scouting events. When I taught in town, I saw my students and their parents here. When I served for a few years on our local School Committee, I got more than one earful of unsolicited advice.

Long after my children graduated from our local schools, when the band concerts and hockey games were over, the salon was my one remaining connection to life in this small New England town.

The local grocery store on our Central Street closed long ago. The library is wonderful, but there is another one closer to my house. Most of my old town friends have moved away or have drifted from my life as the connection of our children has gone.

The salon was the one thing that drew me back into town, once a month, to catch up on the news and renew old ties.

But time marches on. The salon is closing.

Today I had my last haircut in the familiar, homey place. My last look at the photographs on the wall, done by a local photographer who I knew as I little girl. My last time checking out with the friendly young women who were babies when I started to come here.

Many years ago, when I looked in these mirrors, I saw a smiling young mother with thick, dark brown hair. Her brown eyes were clear and her jawline was smooth and slim.

Today I looked into that familiar mirror, from that so familiar chair. I looked into my tired eyes, framed now by glasses. I saw the white of my hair and roundness of my face.

I shared stories and laughs with my sweet hairdresser (who I will follow to her new salon). I paid for my cut, made my next appointment for the new place, and sadly closed the door behind me.

All that is constant is change.

It may be a while before I head back into my little town again.

Marriage Advice For My Kids


Having been (mostly) happily married for 42 years, I think I know what I’m talking about.

Me and my honey, still hanging in there.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

Well, sure. Especially at the beginning. Love thinks it’s adorable that she loves Russian folk music. Love is delighted to learn all about the rules of the professional basketball world that he loves so much.

Love is starry-eyed and golden and filled with many-splendored things.

Until love has been through a few years of bill paying, work, shopping, oil changes and bouts of stomach virus. Then love is a whole lot less patient and kind. Love is still love, but now it looks a bit more like a negotiation between equal partners in a business. You want to watch another NBA game? Cool. Next week we’re going to a folk music show.

“ I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.”

When we fall in love, we feel that our love is greater than anything that any other human has ever known. We feel our souls soaring above the mundane worries of the world.

But then we come down to earth. We might not want to, but we have to find a company to take away our trash, and that sort of breaks the spell. We need to set up a compost pile and we need to buy toilet paper. None of this is romantic. None of this makes our souls reach for the heavens.

We still love each other, of course, but now it feels a little more mundane. Our souls go back to sleep and we find ourselves thanking our beloved for remembering to scoop up the dog poop in the backyard.

“How do you know you’ve found ‘the one’ for you?”

Oh, my dears.

There is no “one.” It isn’t magic. It isn’t kismet or fate or meant-to-be by some amorphous power.

I’m a really nice person and a good wife. I was pretty damn cute when my husband fell in love with me back in the day.

But I would never for a single minute think that I’m the only person he could have ever loved.

Love, and falling in love, is dependent on time, place, circumstance and luck. Don’t ever question the love you have because you wonder if there is someone else out there for you. Of course there is “someone else” out there! But the someone you have now is the one you need to think about.

“You have the perfect relationship.”

No they don’t. Nope.

There is no ‘perfect’ relationship, just as there is no perfect person.

Good relationships are about laughing at each other and at yourselves. They are about having very short memories, and letting go of the little transgressions.

Love is about endurance. It’s about giving in. Love is about not counting and not measuring and not worrying.

Love is trust.

Love is the realization that all day long a part of your brain is thinking, “I can’t wait to tell him this.” It’s about the tiny moments of adjustment that will make her life a bit easier. Turning on her coffee pot when you hear her step out of the shower. Making him a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch, even if he didn’t ask for it.

Love is letting go of the things that bug you.

It’s about picking up his socks every day for 40 years, knowing that one day those socks might not be there. It’s about not eating pasta three times a week, even though you thought you’d married an Italian cook.

Love is about not saying some things, but being sure to say others.

It’s about thanking each other for the things we’ve done for decades. It’s about acknowledging the struggle.

There is no “one” for you. There is no “perfect” relationship, no perfect marriage, no perfect love.

But long term love, the kind that lets you grow and learn, the kind that makes you the best person you can be, that love is out there. You just have to let go of the poetry and embrace the daily grind.

Then you’ll find that the stars really have aligned and you have actually found that most elusive of human experiences.

You will have found true love.

What I Wish We Were Hearing


As I listen to the droning of the impeachment trial, I have one deep, heartfelt wish.

I wish, oh, how desperately I wish, that the US Senate contained one truly inspiring orator.

Not a person who can repeat the same details over and over, in something close to a monotone. Not a person who can make one of the most mind-blowing events in our nation’s history seem as interesting as having your grampa read the phone book.

No.

I wish for a real, live, Frank Capra inspired, Jimmy Stewart style oration.

This is what I want to be hearing from the Democrats today:

Dear colleagues, friends, fellow members of this august body,

I stand before you today not to repeat to you the same words that you have read and heard for months now. I stand before you, not to spin the facts or to impress the voters.

No. I am here now, on this most serious of days, to remind you of who you used to be.

I ask you, my friends, to look back into your own lives. I ask you to remember that moment when you heard for the very first time about the courageous events that took place in Lexington and Concord. When you first imagined the raw courage of the men, and the boys, who stood firm in the face of tyranny, knowing that they might give their lives in the name of democracy.

I ask you to cast your thoughts back to the moment when you first decided to run for public office. On that day, in that moment, did you not whisper to yourself that you would do your very best to serve your country with courage and honesty?

My fellow Senators, I ask you today to recall the moment when you raised your right hand and swore your allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. I ask you to think back and to remember your thoughts as you took your oath of office.

Didn’t you hope, somewhere in your deepest heart, that you would have the courage to emulate those famous men of the past? Did you not look out at your children, your spouse, your parents, and hope that you would somehow manage to make your mark on the history of this great nation?

Today we are faced with a situation unlike any we have seen before. Our country has found itself nearly torn in two, unable to agree on what is true, what is real, what is fact.

We find ourselves aligning behind the letter that follows our names. Am I a “D” or am I an “R”? We find ourselves under terrible pressure to shape the events of the day in a way that will best support our parties.

Dear colleagues. I have worked with many of you for years. I know you to be honest, sincere and dedicated to the ongoing prosperity of our country. A country that we all love and that we all share.

I ask you, today, as we look at the evidence that has been laid out before us, to think about your hopes and your dreams when you were sworn in. Did you not tell yourselves that in a moment of crisis you would plant yourself firmly on the side of truth?

Did you not hope that one day, perhaps a hundred years from now, your name would be recorded in the history books as one of those brave souls who stood up against the corrupt power of a tyrant?

Think about those dreams, my friends. Look to the future.

What is it that you want your grandchildren to read about you in their history books? Do you want them to read that you were one of the many who averted their eyes as the honor and integrity of the United States were sold to the highest bidder?

Or do you want to go down in the annals of history as one of the brave few who was willing to make a sacrifice to ensure that the heart and soul of the American nation would survive?

I trust you, my friends, to do what you know in your hearts is right.

Yeah. I know. This isn’t giving evidence. It wouldn’t be allowed.

But don’t you wish we could have heard it today? If not from Jimmy Stewart, then maybe from Adam Schiff?

What the HELL was that?


Well, holy crap.

I went out into my hot tub tonight, as I often do. The grandkids that I watch every day had gone home. I had dinner on the stove. The laundry was washed and folded and put away.

Dogs fed.

I stepped into the darkness and sank into the bubbling water. Ahhhhh.

As I always do, I raised my eyes to the sky.

And I saw a jet going over.

Now, you need to know that I live in North Central Massachusetts. There are only a few flight paths that go over my house. Every one of them shows me jets that are way, way, WAY up there. I only see a little silver spark up there. But I follow those sparks every night, as they cross my sky.

After almost a decade of sitting in my hot tub, watching the sky, I have figure out that there are only a few flight paths that go over me.

There is the path that clearly goes from Boston up to Montreal or Quebec. There’s the one that goes much higher up, along the eastern sky, seemingly from the south to the north along the coast.

I know the paths. I know the lights.

So tonight I was a little bit surprised to see a jet’s light coming up across my sky from South to North.

“Odd,” I thought. “Why is it in the middle, in between the two usual north to south flight paths?”

I put my head back, feeling the hot water on my aching neck.

And I saw that right behind the first little twinkle of light, there came another. Right behind it. Following the very same odd path.

And behind that? Another.

I was more than intrigued.

I began to count. 5–6–7…..there were SEVEN jets, flying high, crossing a flight path I had never seen before.

Wow.

There was a moment of quiet, a moment of clouds, and then?

Five more silver lights, showing five more jets, all of them flying in a very straight line. One after the other, they crossed the sky above me. From south to north they went.

Then there was a short break.

And five more silver jet lights came along, on the exact, exact, same path. From the south to the north. They went diagonally across the paths of the flights that I have watched every night for almost ten years.

They were on a mission. They were in a line. They were clearly NOT passenger jets.

So.

What the hell were they? And where were they headed?

Old People's Date Night


Old. But still happy.

So Paul and I have been married for going on 42 years. We’ve been a couple for close to 50.

After a while, even the most loving of relationships can get a little….settled. We recently talked (argued? I argued and he listened?) about the fact that we don’t go out much any more. We don’t find fun things to do together as much as we used to. Or as much as this stay-at-home-with-kids Nonni would like.

So on Friday, Paul sent me a text that said, “Hey! Let’s go to the movies on Sunday!”

I was so excited! I haven’t been to a movie since the last Hunger Games film came out.

All weekend long, as I went through my regular routines of laundry, shopping, visiting my mom, paying the bills, I kept thinking about a movie date. Paul did his usual weekend rituals too. He scooped up the dog poop, chopped the ice in the driveway, did his hours of billing paperwork. But last night, he said “We are going to the movies tomorrow!”

Well.

Sunday morning passed with dog walking, some writing for me, some more billing paperwork for him (he’s a psychologist in private practice….someday we’ll talk about Medicare for All). We had lunch, we set coffee up for tomorrow morning, and off we went for Date Night.

Into the giant multiplex theater we went, our pre-ordered tickets in hand. We got our popcorn and box of candy. We found our seats in the almost empty theater.

And we settled in with great anticipation to watch the previews.

Holy nihilistic horrors.

In between the countless ads for Coke products, credit cards, makeup, cars and fast food, we were treated to about 10 movie trailers.

By the time they ended, my mouth was open, my eyes were squinted and my hands were shaking like you wouldn’t believe.

What the absolute HELL?

If movies are a reflection of society, then we are in deep, deep, DEEP shit, my friends. As far as I can recall, we saw trailers for the following films:

  • A spy shoots up historical sites in Europe while drinking too much, sleeping with as many women as he can catch and driving his car over cliffs.
  • A young girl is possessed by demons into believing that she is talking to God when she’s really, um, ya know, possessed by demons. Cue the bleeding eyeballs.
  • An agoraphobic young woman is seduced and then tortured by her sadistic neighbors
  • Something happens that involves various space crafts, disgustingly oozy and aggressive aliens and a lot of women falling down.
  • A look back at WWI in all of its horrific glory; but compounded by the terror of a young man desperate to survive long enough to prevent a catastrophic death that will kill his only brother.

I think there were more, but by the time I got to them I was starting to whimper and I turned my attention to my popcorn.

“Jeez, honey, ” I whispered, “These movies are so horrible! I wouldn’t want to watch any of them!”

He agreed as we clasped hands in the darkened theater.

Then, at long last, our movie started.

“Uncut Gems” with Adam Sandler. We love Sandler, and the plot of the movie had looked intriguing.

A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

Should be very cool, right?

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong and wrong-oh-ramma.

We lasted for about an hour of the film. By that point, we had no idea of why the main character was doing anything that he was doing, who was with him and who was against him, and why any of it was even happening. There was a big fat gemstone, a very very handsome and appealing Kevin Garnett (played by the very very handsome and appealing Kevin Garnett) and other than that, we have no idea what was going on.

All we could tell for sure after an hour of enduring this “movie” was that it must be incredibly easy to write a major Hollywood script.

Even I could do it. Watch.

“What the F…. are you doing, you f…ing piece of f…ing shit?” “Oh, yeah? Well f…..you, you fu…..ing jerk!” “No, f….you! Listen, you fu….er, you f…..in’ f….with me and I’ll f….in’ f….you and your whole family, you f…..er.”

I could go on, but what’s the point?

After an hour, we both had head aches, the popcorn was gone, and we still had no idea why Kevin Garnett wanted the big gemstone or where it was by the time Adam Sandler got attacked at his daughter’s school play.

I am not f…..in’ making this up.

We looked at each other and recognized the horror on each other’s faces.

“Wanna get outta here?”, my honey asked me. I grabbed his hand and we bolted out of there.

From now on, Date Night will have to revolve around ice cream, a walk on the beach or a Disney Movie.

We are just too old for this shit.

Heading home for dinner, a drink and our jammies.

Now I Know How Much You Love Me


Thirty four years ago tonight, I was elated, scared, confident and worried. Thirty four years ago tonight, I was in Boston’s Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, trying with all my might to give birth to my first child.

It was a long and daunting process, but it ultimately resulted in Paul and I holding our very own daughter in our arms. I remember looking into her wide open dark eyes and thinking to myself that life would never be boring again.

One look at her sweet chin and I was in love. Head over heels, who-cares-about-the-rest-of-the-world in love, love, LOVE.

I remember one moment in the hospital. I was on lots of medication, having just had a C-Section. My baby girl was in my arms, the lights were low, and it was just the two of us, breathing in each other’s breaths. I was swept with the deep love that I felt; I knew that if anyone or anything threatened this child, I would kill them or die in the attempt.

I remember resting my cheek against hers and thinking about my Mom. “Wow,” I whispered into the quiet room, “Momma, now I know how much you love me.”

Nothing before that moment had allowed me to fully understand just how deeply my own Mother loved me. I finally understood.

My relationship with Mother has not always been smooth or gentle or free of the barbs that come with jealousy, anger, rebellion. My relationship with my daughter hasn’t either.

But now I find myself almost equally balanced between the two of them, and I am overwhelmed with how sweetly and how deeply my love for them both reaches.

My daughter is the best Mother I know.

She is devoted, calm, loving, supportive and flexible. She keeps her sense of humor intact.

Right now, she is pregnant with her third child; her health, her strength and her stamina are always a worry to me. She is an elementary school teacher, too, so rest time is not something that comes to her easily.

But she is smiling, happy with her life, excited about her career, her children, her new baby and the husband she loves.

She’s kind of my hero.

And my Mother, who will turn 90 in a few weeks, is my other hero. And my other worry.

Mom is still at home, with help from a health aide and from her children. She is increasingly fragile, increasingly confused, in need of more care every month.

It breaks my heart to see my warrior woman Momma, who was the first feminist I ever knew, sinking into her last days.

And yet.

I go to see her once a week. We share a meal, we talk about the past, we do little chores around the house.

And every single time, Mom tells me that she is proud of me, and that she is grateful for my presence. She tells me that she loves me “more” than I love her.

Tonight my heart is filled with a potent mix of love, pride, sadness and joy.

I spent the day baking a beautiful chocolate cake with my grandkids, who love their Mom so much. There were paintings and macaroni necklaces to celebrate her birthday.

I looked at my little granddaughter at one point. I felt my place in a long, long, long line of women and their mothers and their daughters.

I owe my life to my Mom. In turn, she allowed me to have my daughter. Who has blessed my life with her own children.

I look at my grandchildren, dressed in dance clothes, frosting a cake that we’d made together. I thought of my Mom.

“Now I truly know how much you love me.”

The Worst Thing About Retirement


There is a lot to be said for retirement.

And by that I mean, almost everything about retirement is great.

In my retirement, I’m able to sleep until 8 pretty much every day. I get to drink my coffee slowly, in my pajamas.

I haven’t worn “dress shoes” more than three times in the past four years, and those were all weddings.

When it’s rainy, I stay warm and dry in my house. When it’s snowy, I get to go out and play, then come right back in to the fire and the hot soup. I can cook to my heart’s content. I have the time and the mental freedom to learn new things, like my creaky violin and my rudimentary Italian.

I get the grandkids every day, and nothing in the world tops that.

Best of all, I NEVER have to go to meetings. There’s no paperwork and no deadlines (other than getting to the potty in time.)

Nirvana.

Almost.

Because there are a couple of downsides, too.

There’s the fact that it took less than a year for me to be completely out of touch with the newest thoughts about education. I feel left behind and dumped at the curb.

I often feel useless.

Now, don’t start with all that “but the kids need you!” stuff. I know that. My job as chief caregiver for Ellie and Johnny is the most important one I could have. I love them so much that sometimes it actually hurts. They love me back.

I know.

But every once in a while, I hear myself utter a sentence like, “Let’s make a playdoh castle for the trolls!” That’s when I wonder where my formerly intellectual self has gone.

I miss being a deep thinker. I miss having rich conversations with my colleagues about our students. I miss doing diagnostic work, and recognizing how a child was processing the world.

Most of all, I miss the feedback that came with my professional life. I miss the hugs from the kids. Those I miss the most. I miss their smiles, and the little shared jokes that came with every class.

When I was teaching, I knew that I was going a good job. I knew because the kids told me. “You’re a funny teacher!,” they’d tell me. Or, “You’re nice.” I had kids tell me that I helped them understand themselves better, or that I helped them learn how to make mistakes without feeling bad about themselves.

I miss the feedback.

A smile from a parent, a “thank-you” from a worried Mom, hearing a grandparent say, “I’ve heard so much about you!”

I once had a child bring me a rutabaga, six months after he’d graduated to the next grade. It was hilarious, a reminder of a joke that had lasted for his entire fifth grade experience.

I miss that.

And I truly miss the feedback from colleagues; working with very smart teachers and sharing lesson plans made me feel bright by reflection. Sometimes in a TEAM meeting, I’d realize that my observations helped to clarify how a child was struggling. And I knew I was good at the job.

I love retirement. I love being a stay home Nonni and baking cookies on cold days. I am happy to play with toddlers and to read familiar books while snuggled on the couch.

But once in a while, I’d love to have some of that positive feedback that used to make me feel smart.

At least there are no meetings.

How the Boston Red Sox Changed My Political Views.


I’ve been a Red Sox fan since June of 1967. That was when my fifth grade teacher took our class to Fenway Park for a night game. I don’t remember who the Sox played that night, but I remember that the game went into extra innings, and that Tony Conigliaro hit a home run in the bottom of the tenth to win it.

I also remember that the picture of Tony C. in the program was about the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life and my first real crush was born.

As was my life as a Red Sox fan.

If you follow baseball at all, you’ll know that the Boston team used to be famous for it’s inability to win. Year after year, we Sox fans would cheer ourselves hoarse in the spring and cry ourselves hoarse in the fall.

That all changed in October of 2004, when the Sox finally overturned the curse that had plagued them for 86 years. They won the World Series.

All of New England celebrated that victory. We were beyond thrilled, beyond excited, beyond proud. You would have thought that every one of us had pitched in the playoffs!

What made things even sweeter for us was that in order to make it into the World Series, our beloved boys has beaten the despised New York Yankees.

All year long, all through the 2004 season, and for several years afterward, everyone in New England talked about how much we hated the Yankees.

I remember how everyone talked about the two teams. Our guys were “The Idiots”; the Yankees were the “Evil Empire.” We adored the relaxed, fun feeling of our team. So they drank in the clubhouse, so what? We were charmed by the antics of Johnny Damon, chuckling at the image of his naked pull-ups.

And we all knew, deep in our very souls, that A-Rod was weak, whining and pitiful. We loathed Derek Jeter, who we considered to be cold, emotionaless. An automaton with no soul. Don’t even get me started on what we thought of Joe Torre, a manager as sour as our own Terry Francona was sweet.

Curt Schilling? Our brave hero!

Mariano Rivera? A fool.

And on and on it went. It was kind of fun, you know? Our shared adoration for one team and shared hatred for the other gave us a sense of belonging. It gave us a feeling of safety and security. It gave us a sense that we were a clan, protected by our loyalty to ourselves.

It was only during one of the off seasons that it occurred to me that we were being a little closed minded. I listened to an interview with Derek Jeter on XM Radio. I was surprised to realize that the man was articulate, intelligent, warm and funny.

And then I was surprised at my own surprise.

I am embarrassed at how long it took me to realize that just because a guy wore a Red Sox jersey, I couldn’t assume that he was a prince. The whole “team” thing was really only about baseball games, not character.

When all was said and done, Curt Schilling turned out to be someone I wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus, while Derek Jeter is a guy I’ve truly come to admire.

So what does all this have to do with politics, you ask?

It’s the whole “Vote Blue No Matter Who” thing, that’s what. It’s the way that we immediately write off anyone who watches a different cable news channel than we do.

I know it can be fun to laugh at those memes about how stupid the “sheep” are because they can’t “think for themselves.” But this stuff is only funny when “our” side is saying it about “their” side. When the barb is turned around and aimed at “us”, we bristle and comfort ourselves by saying how hateful the other side is.

Here’s the thing: I have really strong political views. I’m a far left, progressive, Medicare-for-all, tuition-free-public-college, hippy snowflake. It would be really easy for me to pick a team.

But I’m no longer willing to assume that every other liberal thinker is a saint and every conservative a sinner. “We” aren’t smarter than “they” are. “We” aren’t kinder, or more gentle, or more deserving.

And we are NOT a team.

I don’t think of the political parties as teams. I don’t think of their followers as teams. I now realize that everyone who wears my favorite uniform isn’t a good guy and everyone who wears the other jersey isn’t criminal. I am no longer willing to vote for a candidate just because there is a D next to their name.

I have finally realized that I won’t be pitching in the playoffs. In fact, I know now that this isn’t actually a game and that I’m not bound by clan loyalty to help one team come out on top.

Because we live (at least theoretically) in a democracy, I am free to cast my vote for whichever candidate I prefer.

Thanks to Derek Jeter for helping me to evolve.

Image attribution: Red Sox vs. Padres, Fenway Park July 4th” by djanimal is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

What Learning the Violin Has Taught Me About Life


http://”Violin Still Life” by cbyeh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When I was nine years old, my school offered the opportunity to learn an instrument. We were told that we could become a part of our school’s orchestra.

Wow.

I was thrilled at the idea, although I’m not sure why. My parents loved music, but neither was a musician. Still, I happily chose to play the viola, and joined the small group of music nerds in my elementary school.

I fell head over heels in love with the sound of that viola. I fell in love with the deep purple velvet that lined it’s case, and with the smell of the resin that I rubbed onto my bow.

As I played the viola, I learned about the joy of harmony, and was always thrilled to be the lower voice to that of the violin. To this day, I sing alto every chance I get.

My fourth grade year was largely shaped by my love of my Thursday morning orchestra rehearsals and my Tuesday after-lunch strings lesson. Sitting here right now, at the age of 63, I can still remember how I’d wish my Tuesday lunch time over, so that I could step onto the stage in our “cafetorium”, where the dusty curtain would be closed and the small group of violin, viola and cello players would practice in the musty warmth.

Playing my instrument, in a crowd of other young musicians, was magic to me. It lifted me out of my world and brought me into a world of sweetly entwining harmonies. I felt such a surge of power as I played my little beginners viola.

But at the end of that year, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to keep playing. My big family just didn’t have the money to allow me to continue.

I can still remember sitting in the back of the family car after our end-of-year concert. My parents were taking us out for ice-cream, to celebrate my musical achievement.

I couldn’t stop crying. Ice cream or none, I was heartbroken to give up my lovely, golden hued viola.

But life goes on, and childhood sadness fades away. I went on to have a happy childhood, a healthy adolescence and a very good adulthood.

Over the years, I’ve indulged my love of music by joining several choirs and by learning a little bit of acoustic guitar. I listen to music, of course, and I go to see live music as often as possible.

But I’ve still held onto the memory of that viola, of the sweet song of the bow being pulled across the strings. I never stopped wanting to try it again.

And here I am.

A grandmother, a lady with arthritic fingers and an achy back. A retired teacher. A good cook. A reader and a would-be-writer.

And I have once again taken up my beloved strings and bow. This time I am learning to play the violin, instead of the viola. This is in part because that’s what was available to me (thank you, brother Dave!). But it’s also because the violin is easier to learn.

Enter my wonderful, patient, talented, encouraging teacher, Susan.

My dream is coming true because of Susan’s gentle guidance. In the past four months, she has taught me how to hold my violin correctly, how to hold the bow and how to place my fingers. She’s shown me how to put enough weight in my wrist, and how to make “long bows” and “short bows.” The technical parts of playing are beginning to make some sense.

But here’s the best part of what she has taught me.

Susan has taught me to give myself some slack. She has shown me how to look at the goal, and not the individual steps to its achievement.

You see, I am kind of hard on myself when it comes to the violin. I know what a good violinist sounds like; they are sweet, and smooth and effortless. The voice of the instrument is tender and pure.

When I play, on the other hand, the strings tend to shriek. The bow bounces. My notes are either just a bit too sharp or just a bit too flat. I can’t seem to keep my aging eyes on the strings, the bow, my fingers and the music while also paying attention to the movement of my wrist and the position of my right shoulder.

I want to create the sounds that I hear in my head; I am not happy with the struggling, wobbling sounds that emanate from my violin.

Even my dog, Bentley, tends to howl when I play.

It’s demoralizing. It’s depressing.

But Susan keeps me on track. And here is how she does it:

Susan reminds me that children learn by simply doing. They do not think about each finger, they only think about the song to be produced.

“Look at the bigger picture,” she seems to say, “Make the music that you want, don’t keep questioning yourself.”

And she tells me to be patient with myself. She tells me that I am on a journey, and that every step is one to be celebrated. She constantly reminds me that this week I am able to play a simple song that was a struggle for me a week ago.

I am learning. I am growing. I need to embrace and celebrate my progress. I need to accept the fact that I am not an accomplished musician, but that I am someone who is moving forward.

The best part of what Susan has taught me, though, is that when I play music, I do it for myself. I am my only audience. I do this purely for pleasure.

This isn’t a job, or a class, or a medal to be earned. It’s a chance to express myself through music, through the music of a lovely, graceful stringed instrument. It’s a chance to send my emotions out into the air through my bow, through the vibration of these strings.

She is teaching me to take a breath, to do my best, to accept my mistakes and to enjoy my brief moments of musical beauty.

What I love is that these are the exact same lessons I have tried so hard to impart to my children, to my elementary school students, and to my grandchildren.

What a gift!

With my violin awkwardly tucked under my aging jaw, as I carefully pull the bow across those carefully tuned strings, I am reminded that moments of beauty, like moments of success, are both rare and precious.

Thank you, Susan!

Now I’m going to practice my Christmas Carols.